The Philadelphia Portrait Project by Erin Howley

The Philadelphia Portrait Project is a collection of batik portraits based on interviews with residents of the Philadelphia neighborhood of East Kensington. Batik is a textile art in which hot wax is used to resist fabric dye, revealing images of multi-layered color and shape.  These batiks were made with pigments from leaves, nuts, and roots harvested primarily from vacant lots and roadsides in the neighborhood, and embellished with silk embroidery and lambs wool. The Philadelphia Portrait Project brings together voices from local residents on issues that were most important to them, including the impact of drugs on the youth, gentrification, age gaps between youth and elders, and the local economy. A dynamic inter-ethnic, low-income neighborhood that is often relegated to the margins, East Kensington has a heritage of local perspectives and knowledge about struggle, regeneration, and hope. By combining the vibrancy of roadside medicinal plants with words coming from behind the doors of neighborhood homes, businesses, and social justice organizations, this project pays tribute to the power and legacy of often overlooked forms of local knowledge.

Erin Howley is an artist and facilitator. Her work is about the underlying complexity that exists amongst environments, people, and communities.  She merges narratives and testimonies with arts-based mediums, making visible the connections people share within social, political, geographic, and cultural terrains.  Her artwork serves as a platform for exploring the intersections of possibility that exist within groups and communities, towards the aim of heightened social and political agency. As a form of social intervention, her work can be seen as a process of building and growing relationships and deepening engagement amongst groups and collectives, toward the realization and regeneration of health and well-being.

Erin is currently completing her MA in Environmental Studies at York University in Toronto, with a focus on installation art and group-based practices of social intervention.

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